Thursday, October 31, 2013

Red Maryland Radio: 10/31/2013

It was another the Halloween of Red Maryland Radio this week:

On this week's show:
This is why you can't afford to miss Red Maryland Radio each and every Thursday night at 8, on the Red Maryland Network.......and don't forget that you can subscribe to the Red Maryland Network on iTunes.

More below the fold.

Good Money After Bad

The City of Baltimore decided to do an extensive investigation into the city-owned Hilton Hotel. And their decision on this matter shows exactly why you don't do stupid stuff like build city-owned hotels in the first place:

There's too much money tied into the city ownership of the Hilton Hotel to put it on the market, Baltimore City officials said Thursday. 
City officials said the hotel is not for sale and that they would expect to lose tens of millions of dollars by putting it on the market. They said restructuring the debt is not an option, and they believe the hotel will turn a profit in 10 years. 
This study indicates the Hilton is outperforming other hotels in the city and that holding onto it will pay off down the road.
Read the whole thing.
The city has lost money on the hotel for years because it could never meet the revenue projections promised by its supporters, something that some enlightened observers predicted in 2005 given its comparison to similar projects in other cities that had been completed at the time. Since then the hotel hasn't exactly been swimming in profits; just last year the hotel had to withdraw money from their reserve fund in order to pay their bills after running up over $54 million losses since its opening. 
Of course, any sale of the hotel would certainly create political headaches for one Governor Martin O'Malley. Remember the city-owned hotel was O'Malley's brainchild all along. Once created, O'Malley used the construction of the hotel to engage in one of his favorite sports; throwing development dollars to Democratic operatives. The hotel wound up being developed by Ronald Lipscomb, notorious developer, Democratic fundraiser , and boyfriend of disgraced former Mayor Sheila Dixon. Despite his flaws and issues with jurisprudence, O'Malley called Lipscomb "a man of vision, talent, and commitment to the greater good." And to top it off, O'Malley was able to create the hotel, enrich a crony, lost the new Hilton company headquarters to Virginia despite his support of a public financed hotel, and then attempt to blame former Governor Bob Ehrlich for the failure of the hotel when it was preordained to fail in the first place.

Needless to say that selling the hotel would be an admission that Martin O'Malley failed, something that the Governor can ill-afford to have as he embraces on his Titanic-like Presidential campaign.
While there are obvious political reasons that would make Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake want to protect O'Malley and her Democratic cronies, there is no legitimate reason to keep the hotel in city-controlled hands. With $54 million in losses and counting, there is no reason to believe that the Hilton is going to turn a profit at any time in the near future. In a city, as I have noted before, that is in serious financial straits, a city that has crumbling schools, dilapidated infrastructure, and not enough police in order to keep basic order in all parts of the city, something has got to give. If the City sold the hotel right now and was able to get out from under the cost of operating the hotel and the cost of the debt service of the hotel, it would in a small way reduce the fiscal burden that the city faces, and would cut the City's losses at around the $54 million mark where it currently sits. The City would then be able to redirect the funds from the occupancy tax (which are partially funding hotel operations right now) back into the City general fund so that it can be used for City-related endeavors which are not related to competing with the private sector.
Baltimore's inability to admit defeat and sell the Hilton is just another example of how city elected officials either don't understand basic economics or don't take their role as fiscal stewards seriously. It's time for the city to cut its losses, get out of the hotel business, and try to focus on fixing the myriad of problems facing Baltimore. 

More below the fold.

Red Maryland Radio Tonight

Join Greg and I tonight as we bring you another huge episode of Red Maryland Radio tonight at 8.

On this week's show:

All that and more tonight. Be sure to tune in tonight at 8, only on the Red Maryland Network. If you want to be part of the conversation leave us a message on the Red Maryland Talkback Line at  (410) 205-4875.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

O'Malley Administration Fired Developmental Disabilities Administration Whistle Blower

At the time advocates were lobbying for an alcohol tax increase to raise revenue for the disabled, the Developmental Disabilities Administration knew about and covered up $38 million in unspent state and federal funds from fiscal year 2010, according to court documents filed by a whistleblower.

Carrie Phillip, former Chief Financial Officer of the much-beleaguered agency tasked with administering services to Maryland’s disabled community, filed a complaint in Baltimore City Circuit Court, alleging she discovered and notified top agency officials about the unspent funds, top officials in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ordered her to hide the surplus funds in 2011, and that she was subsequently terminated for blowing the whistle.

Phillip also alleges she alerted her superiors about inadequate internal controls, and agency staff doing work they were unqualified to perform. 

During the 2011 legislative session, disability and public health advocates lobbied for an increase in Maryland’s alcohol tax, citing a lack of funding and a long waiting list of disabled residents needing services.  They were ultimately successful in increasing the state sales tax from 6 to 9 percent on alcohol sales.   DDA received $15 million of the extra revenue generated. 

Later that year, DDA officials revealed they had discovered a $38 million surplus from fiscal year 2010, $25 million of which had to be reverted to the general fund.

Phillip, a Certified Public Accountant with a Masters degree in accounting, alleges she discovered and disclosed that DDA hid the $38 million, while the agency denied services to the disabled to cut costs.

On June 2, 2011 Phillip wrote a letter to Governor O’Malley detailing her concerns.

The latest OLA audit speaks for itself but it does not render a complete illustration of the issues. Auditors rarely detect fraud and DDA’s uniqueness prevents auditors from acquiring the feel for the substance of the thousands of unique transactions.  As a CPA I’m bound by a professional code of ethics and have a duty to report the fraudulent contracts, fraudulent transactions, and fraudulent financial reporting existing the organization. I will provide documentation if requested.
 Without objective oversight, exemption from procurement regulations has situated the foxes to guard the henhouse.  The staffing mix is incomprehensible for an organization with an $800,000,000 annual budget and the financial reporting foundation of DDA is built on unreliable data making what comes out of no value.
 Within the organization, dishonest acts are greeted with nothing more than raised eyebrows. The agency makes multi-million dollar duplicate payments and does nothing to remediate the situation. An ongoing practice of unauthorized interest free loans continues as well as inflating payments to providers if they are in good favor and merely ask for it or if it creates conveniences for DDA staff….
 As troubling as this is, I enjoy my profession and do not speak from the vantage point of someone with tunnel vision or an axe to grind and request protection from the inevitable backlash that will result from these disclosures.  I’ve had the pleasure of working for other state agencies and have not previously encountered anything like this.  I normally disclose questionable acts within the organization but am being pressured to falsify documents and cannot do so.  The power at DHMH rests within a formidable network making change from within impossible and elevating concerns is frowned upon.  Therefore I’m pleading to your administration for guidance. 

Phillip received no reply from Governor O’Malley’s office.  The only reply she received was four months later in a letter from, Joshua Sharfstein, Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

On October 7, 2011 Sharfstein wrote to Phillp that O’Malley asked him to respond to her letter.  Sharfstein noted that he had referred her concerns to the department’s inspector general and that “the Governor appreciates hearing from you and on his behalf, I thank you for bringing these concerns to my attention.”

On October 11, 2011, four days later, Phillip received a termination notice from then-Developmental Disabilities Administration Executive Director, Franklin Kirkland. Kirkland now serves as a special advisor to the Acting Director, Patrick Dooley.

It took the O’Malley administration four months to acknowledge Phillip’s concerns, and only four days to fire her.

The next month, in November of 2011, news of the unspent funds broke in the media.  Maryland Reporter’s story quoted Senator Ed Kasemeyer, Chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee saying of phone conversation with Sharfstein, “After he called me, he fired the [chief financial officer].”

Phillip’s allegations counter the narrative put out by agency officials that they were responsible for catching the error, particularly Shafstein’s testimony before Kasemeyer’s committee later that month.

Phillip, according to the complaint, filed for an appeal of her termination.  A hearing was held, but no decision was rendered. 

On October 16, 2013, Phillip emailed Governor O’Malley again, stating that DHMH has not paid out her leave or other accrued benefits.  In addition to she says DHMH blocked her from attaining a similar position at another state agency.

In the same email Phillip also states her disclosure of the unspent funds hampered DHMH’s ability to “continue to funnel money to personal friends using fraudulent and improper pass through contracts,” and “unrecoverable and unauthorized multimillion dollar loans to their friends.”

Phillip also indicates she was the originator of the complaint, which led to a federal audit of DDA that determined the agency owed the federal government $21 million for Medicaid overbilling.

Phillip’s accusations are in line with the string of negative audits DDA has received from legislative auditors over the last several years, which portrays an agency in turmoil.

In April of 2010, Phillip sent an email to her superiors outlining serious internal control deficiencies within DDA.  “Internal controls are lacking,” Phillip wrote. “Because there aren’t sufficient adequately trained fiscal employees.”  She argued that that overseeing an operation the size of DDA, which has an $800 million budget, requires “an appropriate compliment of subordinate supervisors.”

Phillip wrote that she routinely performed tasks suited for staff level employees, leaving her little time to perform higher-level fiscal management duties.  “I’m performing staff level work that can’t be delegated to current staff…I have to emphasize on the job training of members of the unit will not compensate for a lack of business education and experience gained thereafter.”

She also noted many of her subordinate employees stall and freeze items because they don’t know enough or that there is insufficient time to for her to give hands on supervision.  Phillip warned that auditors will find an unacceptably high number of exceptions and that a deputy would be needed to detect and prevent errors.

In June 2013, Sharfstein hired, through a no-bid $3.1 million contract, the firm of Alvarez & Marsal, which specializes in fixing troubled organizations.

More below the fold.

Why we cannot have nice things.

Brian beat me in the race to post something about the Letter to the Editor written in today's Baltimore Sun by the chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Preibus.  As Brian noted, the Maryland Republican Party had no idea this was being submitted before the RNC chair decided to comment on Maryland's Governor's race.  Worse yet, our chairman and executive director did not know about the piece until we in the new media, specifically our friend Jackie Wellfonder, mentioned it in our regular new media conference calls.

I knew our state party leadership would be blindsided by this and said as much.

And while I agree with Brian, and the senior staff of our state party, that letting the Attorney General twist in the wind with no help from us is a fine strategy, that misses the significance of what Reince Preibus did.

This seemingly passing incident is a revelation about what is really wrong with our state party. I mean, why would the Chairman of the RNC just wade into a race in another state without even the courtesy of a heads up to the state's GOP leadership?

Why?  Here is the hard truth.

And in fairness, it is not just our Chairman but the entire leadership of our state party.  Can you imagine a RNC chair doing this to Michael Steele, John Kane or even Alex Mooney? Neither can I.

Our state party leadership has taken such a low media profile, is so overwhelmed by their own problems and so seemingly invisible to most Republicans around the state, that Reince Preibus probably thought he was doing us a favor by kicking a statewide democratic candidate while he was down.

It is not bad enough that we have Maryland Republican leaders raising money for other states while our candidates in this year's elections are largely ignored, now the RNC chair just has to emphasize how invisible our state party organization is?

The reality is that if you go to our state party's website, you would not even know Doug Gansler was running.  That is the problem.  Maryland Republicans, outside of the most ardent activists and central committee members, have no idea what our party is doing or what positions we are taking.

Our state party leaders do practically no media of their own.  No talk radio. No regular op-eds.

As just a candidate for state party chair I could pick up a phone and get an hour on WBAL.  C4 offered previous chairs a weekly segment, which they refused.  Other outlets would love to hear regularly from our state party about what is going on but it seems no effort is made to take advantage of the few free media opportunities our state party has.

If it was not the case, if we had a real coordinated media presence as a party, maybe Reince Preibus knows it is a strategic blunder to do the O'Malley machine's bidding by piling on Gansler and that Letter to the Editor opportunity could have been used to talk about why Gansler is really being attacked.

Enough is enough.  Something has to change.

More below the fold.

Priebus Plays in the Gansler Sandbox

Today RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has decided to play in the Doug Gansler sandbox, with a blistering letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun. And that is unfortunate....

I think all of us can agree with some of the sentiments that Chairman Priebus included in his letter ("As a dad, I'm appalled by his behavior. It's irresponsible for a parent. And as a lawyer, I also know he likely violated the oath he took as attorney general by selectively enforcing the law") but there are two pretty big concerns that I have with this letter.
  1. The letter was submitted without the prior knowledge of State Party Chairman Diana Waterman of Executive Director Joe Cluster.  This question was asked on the biweekly State Party Blogger Conference Call and neither had any advance knowledge of the call.
  2. The letter violates one of the central tenets of politics and war. Sun Tzu wrote “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” With Gansler floundering around with this particular issue, it makes absolutely no sense to throw Gansler a lifeboat by making this issue about Democrats vs Republicans. It was wise for the State Party to take a pass on making a statement on the Gansler issue or encouraging him to leave or stay in the race, because we want Gansler to stay in the race. We want the contrast of having Gansler in the race critiquing the O'Malley/Brown record from the Democratic perspective. There is no reason for Republicans to get in the middle of this.
It's unfortunate that, of all times, Chairman Priebus chose to intervene in Maryland. I would hope in the future before he gets involved in our state politics that he would at least provide notice to our State Chairman first.

More below the fold.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Anthony Brown Playing in the Dirt

Anthony Brown’s campaign manager, Justin Schall, has quite a history, and it isn’t pretty.   

Maryland political insiders know Schall hopped over to Brown after running John Delany’s successful campaign to win Maryland’s gerrymandered sixth district. 

However, Schall’s track record is pretty shady.

In 2006, Schall managed the losing campaign of Cindy Chavez, who was running for mayor of San Jose, CA.  Here’s what the website MetroActive reported that election night.

We love election night parties. The exuberance, the fatalism, the cheese cubes. We even enjoyed getting tossed out of the Holiday Inn's Mediterranean Room banquet hall by a man who claimed to be Cindy Chavez's campaign manager, Justin Schall. "This is a private party," he explained with postal rage. (Was it something we wrote?) When we returned and sidled up to our attractive blonde armed bodyguard, a well-known elected law enforcement official, the hothead relented but threatened, "You and me are going to have a lot of fun in this town for a long time." This may go down as one of the only cases in local election history that a working member of the local press was unceremoniously plucked from a media event filled with TV cameras because the publication failed to write nice things about a campaign that refused to talk.

Hostility to a certain media that fails to write nice things about a campaign that won’t talk to said media.  

If that sounds familiar to you, you’d be right.  That’s the same treatment the Brown campaign, under young master Schall, gave to Baltimore-based blogger Hassan Giordano. 

Disturbed by the friendly content being given to their chief rival in the upcoming Maryland democratic primary for Governor, Attorney General Doug Gansler; a senior member of the Brown campaign reached out to DMVDaily to express their dismay in what they described as 'slanted coverage that didn't warrant the title of true journalism'.

Yet, when the citizen journalism site expressed their sincere attempt at providing the same coverage for their candidate, they were rebuffed our attempt with the firm statement that “the Brown campaign doesn't acknowledge or respond to bloggers”.

Schall’s history of douchebaggery doesn’t end there. 

Schall was one of the mental giants behind a local San Jose sleaze site called San Jose Revealed.   Funded by a labor union, Schall and his partners, which included the husband of his former boss, Cindy Chavez, dished out all manner of personal attacks and invaded the privacy of its targets.

When one frequent victim of San Jose Revealed’s particularly vicious attacks asked Chavez for help in removing a map to his residence that had been posted to the site, Chavez asked a number of questions about San Jose Inside’s ownership structure. The information shared with Chavez appeared on San Jose Revealed a few days later, in the June 9, 2008 post “Who Owns San Jose Inside?” 
After the map was published by Revealed, the home’s owner, falsely accused of making money through pornography, became the victim of a hate crime that involved property destruction and swastika graffiti. 
It wasn’t the first time San Jose Revealed turned politics personal. The site published a map to deputy district attorney David Pandori’s home. (Pandori has a family and prosecutes gangs for a living.) It made an issue out of McEnery’s daughter’s late payment of a garbage bill. And in 2007 it breathlessly posted the dating profile of District 6 councilman Pierluigi Oliverio.

It should be noted, none of this information made it into the mainstream press reporting on the Brown campaign’s hiring of Schall. 

Schall was also a member of Howard Dean’s 2004 advance team in Iowa.  Perhaps he was the guy who told Dean “why don’t you give the crowd a good scream.”

Schall would eventually go on to work for Democratic Rep Eric “tickle fight” Massa, which is ironic given Anthony Brown’s record on Jessica’s Law, and Democrat Steve Israel’s aborted run for the U.S. Senate.

Former Democratic Governor of New York, David Patterson snubbed Schall, when he sought reelection in 2010.

Even the blind guy saw that Schall was bad news. 

However, as evidenced by the series damaging leaks about his primary challenger, Attorney General Doug Gansler, seeded in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun by the O’Malley-Brown machine, the execrable Justin Schall was exactly the type of hit man Anthony Brown was looking for. 

More below the fold.


Ed Crane, Winner of the 2013-2014 Thomas Szasz Award for
Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties

By Richard E. Vatz (presented October 28, 2013 at the Thomas S.
Szasz Award Cocktail Reception)


     There are a number of criteria I have used historically to assess the deservingness of candidates for the Thomas Szasz Civil Liberties Award.  Not to disparage my fellow award-givers who sometimes vote per whether a potential recipient shares every jot and tittle of their political philosophy, but I vote to support those who, in the words of the exemplary recipient of this Award, Jeff Schaler, “are with me, fighting against self-appointed engineers of the human soul in their own ways, engineers empowered by the state to deprive people of liberty and justice in the name of compassion and science.”

     Even in the Szaszian world there is the paradox that while Tom demanded freedom of thought and philosophy and argued relentlessly against the therapeutic State, he believed that people have the right to disagree without being punished for their philosophy and positions.

     So generally I look favorably at candidates not who demonstrated the strictest fealty to Szasz’s philosophy and policy recommendations, but those for whom there is room for disagreement, and that disagreement must be respected.

     Tom and I agreed on the liberty reflex wherein we infer human agency in human decisions and opposition to those who abjure explanations of human choice in scenic terms, wherein they are “psychologically determined to behave as they do” or that they should be able to escape the criminal justice system through psychiatric exculpation.  We also agreed that people should not be incarcerated for taking what are now illegal drugs, but we agreed that obtaining drugs is not a right and that self-drugging for competitive advantage in sports was arguably correctly outlawed.  We disagreed regarding whether people who threatened other people necessarily should be incarcerated and on other issues as well.

     Ed Crane is an eminently deserving winner of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties.  That does not mean that he is or must be politically correct to those who award the Szasz Award.   

     I am not an expert on Mr. Crane’s views but I know enough of them to be an admirer: he loves Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative and its tenets; he admires my hero, Ronald Reagan, albeit the support is attenuated by President Reagan’s periodic insufficient support of limited government.

     As Jim Dorn, CATO’s Vice President for Monetary Studies, Senior Fellow, and Editor of Cato Journal, and a great former Towson University colleague of mine put it, Ed Crane founded Cato on the premise of individual freedom and limited government.  His dedication to libertarian principles and civil liberties for more than 35 years, and his fierce refusal to bow to the power politics that is the heart and soul of Washington, and to maintain Cato's independence, are traits that Thomas Szasz admired. 

     Ed Crane  opposes neo-cons, and some of my best friends are neo-cons, but as I say, the paradox of supporting individual liberty, at which Ed Crane excels, does not require philosophical lockstep, certainly with the Thomas Szasz Award Committee.

      His unwavering support of limited government in a presidential era of unlimited support of expansive government control of virtually every aspect of living and suffering and working and dying is exemplary, and his support of the Constitution is equally profound.  I always think that someone who receives the Szaszian Civil Liberties Award should have experienced political threats and fighting and being misquoted and (intentionally) misinterpreted, which Tom Szasz experienced his entire life.  Certainly Ed Crane, one-time head of Youth for Goldwater at Berkeley and later in the political fights at CATO, more than qualifies on those grounds as well.

     Finally, he has a sense of humor and is unthreatened in contentious conversation…he once described a libertarian convention, of which he obviously approved, as “a scene right out of a Star Wars bar scene.”

     In Jeff Schaler’s words he “did it his way,” and that is eminently consistent with Tom’s conceptualization of the Thomas Szasz Award.  The words “commitment to liberty” are more than frequently part of his conversation – it is not just a passing fancy for him.

   Ed Crane is most deserving of the Thomas Szasz Civil Liberties Award.

Professor Vatz of Towson University is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt; 2013)

More below the fold.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

15 Minutes for 10/27/2013

ICYMI, check out this week's episode of "15 Minutes" with our guest host John Lofton, Director of The God and Government Project.

Check out new episodes of 15 Minutes every Sunday night with a new guest host. Our upcoming hosts are:

  • November 3rd: Dan Bongino, Candidate for Congress in the 6th District
  • November 10th: David Vogt, Candidate for Congress in the 6th District
  • November 17th: Mark Schaff, President of the Republican Club of Frederick County
  • November 24th: Donald Quinn

Be sure to catch all of our Network by subscribing to the Red Maryland Network on iTunes

More below the fold.

Red Maryland's Election Focus 10-26-13

This week the focus is on candidates for the Maryland House of Delegates:

We have interviews with 

Johnny Mautz (RCand-37B), 

Wendi Peters (RCand-4)
Frank Mirabile (RCand - 9A).

More below the fold.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Doug Gansler and the Richard Nixon Curse

--Richard E. Vatz

“I gave ‘em a sword and they stuck it in and they twisted it with relish, and I guess if I had been in their position, I would have done the same thing.” 

     This great quote from the interviews that Richard Nixon gave to David Frost in 1977 summarizes Doug Gansler’s significant, possibly gubernatorial candidacy-destroying, dilemma. 

     When you are seriously flawed, as virtually every power-seeker is, and you give ammunition to your enemies, which not all power-seekers do in abundance, they (the enemies) will use it to exaggerate your flaws and possibly defeat you and/or destroy your political career. 

     As by now the entire politically interested world knows, Maryland Attorney General Gansler was first (unfairly) accused of racially attacking Lieutenant Governor Anthony G. Brown.  Subsequently, he has credibly been accused of browbeating state troopers to break speeding laws, lying about not remembering receiving a traffic ticket, and most recently did attend a reception (for which he partially paid) for high school graduates, wherein he blithely ignored what photos make look like an Animal House-like party full of teenagers who are drinking and carousing. 

     As reported by The Baltimore Sun, Gansler claimed initially it was not his responsibility (“Do I have any moral authority over other people’s children at beach week in another state?  I say no”), and then said he did “have a moral responsibility over other people’s children.” 

     The standard rhetorically predictable political opponent’s accusation-by-diffident-distance occurred next: Brown stated, “What the attorney general encountered, that’s a matter for him…the question [of whether Gansler should quit the Governor’s race] isn’t for me; that’s a question for the Maryland voters to decide.” 

     What are the rules for politicians concerning such devastating sets of circumstances?   

1.     Lead by first doing what is right, not by calculation of self-interest.  If that order is followed, doing what is right will serve your self-interest.

2.     Don’t leap to a microphone before thinking out your answer.

3.     Assume that all public events and some private ones are being audio and/or video-recorded. 

     Politicians, particularly those who are not well known, can be destroyed by being erroneously defined (e.g., the racial reference to Lieut. Gov. Brown), but if you have committed mistakes, blunders and irresponsible acts that genuinely reflect a personal weakness, your enemies will stick that sword in and twist it with relish, as would you in their position. 

     Just ask supporters of Richard M. Nixon.

Professor Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University

More below the fold.

Municipalities Skirting Maryland Public Information Act to Hide Speed Camera Flaws

A Maryland motorist group is suing two municipalities for failure to comply with public records requests seeking information on their speed camera systems.

Ron Ely, chairman of the Maryland Driver’s Alliance, filed complaints in circuit court against the towns of Brentwood and Morningside, both in Prince George’s County. 

According to court documents, Ely filed a records request under the Maryland Public Information Act seeking information on possible errors with Brentwood’s speed camera program.  Ely requested copies of any correspondence between the town and the speed camera operator, the Maryland State Highway Administration and then-State Senator David Harrington. 

The law requires queried entities to respond to requests within 30 days. Brentwood did not respond within the 30-day period.  Ely followed up with a second request and sent email inquiries about his initial request, yet received no reply.  It was not until June 2012, almost two years later that the town finally responded.  However, the response from Brentwood Town Administrator, Joseph Mangini, only stated a fee schedule for merely initiating a response to his request, including $200 per hour for the town attorney’s time.   

Ely made several more attempts to obtain the records he was seeking

In a December 2012 email to Mangini, Ely wrote:

…it has now been OVER TWO YEARS since Optotraffic [Brentwood’s speed camera operator] stated they were investigating possible errors by speed cameras in the town of Brentwood (based on a Sept. 2010 article in the Washington Examiner).  And it has been over two years since I filed the first of two public information act requests with the city for records pertaining to that investigation and for documents pertaining to speed camera errors.

The Town of Brentwood responded to Ely’s complaint admitting to nearly all the allegations of failing to comply with the Maryland Public Information Act request, however, the town is claiming a laches defense arguing that Ely should have sued them sooner. 

Ely also filed a complaint against the Town of Morningside when that municipality failed to respond to his request for speed camera calibration certificates.  Maryland’s speed camera law requires these records to be kept on file.  When Morningside did respond, the town’s attorney claimed that it does not maintain calibration records, as it does not operate the cameras.  Ely claims that those calibration records are public documents and the town cannot conceal them by claiming they are the property of a private contractor.

“The resistance we’ve encountered has a to do with what happened in Baltimore,” Ely said. 

Baltimore City temporarily suspended its speed camera program in April in the wake of revelations that cameras in its system were incorrectly calibrated and were issuing citations to vehicles travelling 37 mph, when the threshold should have been 42mph.  One city camera issued a citation to a car that was not even moving. 

Baltimore eventually switched camera operators, ditching the politically connected Xerox State and Local Solutions for the Hanover, MD based Brekford.  Brekford operates Morningside’s speed camera system.

“I was motivated by the patterns I see,” said Ely.  “The jurisdictions with major problems are the ones not turning over documents. 

More below the fold.